Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Jim Thome Elected to Phillies Wall of Fame

In the summer of 1978, having been selected to the Baseball Hall of Fame just two years earlier, starting pitcher Robin Roberts became the founding member of a new Phillies franchise "Wall of Fame", which would basically serve as a Hall of Fame for players, coaches, and other individuals over the history of the franchise.
Roberts played 14 seasons in Philadelphia, and helped lead the 'Whiz Kids' to the 1950 National League pennant. The following year, Roberts was joined by broadcaster Richie Ashburn, who not only had been calling games with the team for a decade and a half, but who had been a teammate of Roberts with those 1950 NL champs.
Ashburn had played with the Phillies for a dozen years, and was selected for the Baseball Hall of Fame himself in 1995. 
Whitey was followed in 1980 by the selection of Chuck Klein to the Wall of Fame. Klein had been enshrined at Cooperstown that same summer after appearing with the Fightins' in 15 of his 17 big league seasons.
In 1981, Grover Cleveland Alexander become the 4th member of the Phillies' Wall of Fame. Another Baseball Hall of Famer, 'Old Pete Alexander' had pitched with the Phils during eight of his 20 seasons in the Majors. He recorded 190 of his 373 career victories in a Phillies uniform.
The other players enshrined over the years, with the number of years service with the Phillies in parentheses, were as follows:

Del Ennis (11), Jim Bunning (6), Ed Delahanty (13),  Cy Williams (13), Granny Hamner (16), Steve Carlton (15), Mike Schmidt (18), Larry Bowa (12), Chris Short (14), Curt Simmons (13), Dick Allen (9), Willie Jones (13), Sam Thompson (10), Johnny Callison (10), Greg Luzinski (11), Tug McGraw (10), Gavvy Cravath (9), Garry Maddox (12), Tony Taylor (15), Sherry Magee (11), Billy Hamilton (6), Bob Boone (10), John Vukovich (7), Juan Samuel (7), Darren Daulton (14), John Kruk (6), Mike Lieberthal (13), Curt Schilling (9), and Pat Burrell (9).
I have to admit, and realize that I may be one of the few, it bothers me that Thome is the selection for the Wall of Fame. It's not that I don't think he is deserving of consideration. And perhaps he might even be deserving of enshrinement there - some day.
The problem is two-fold: Thome only played two effective seasons in Philadelphia, and there are a number of more deserving candidates who have waited longer to be honored by the team.
On the first issue, a simple look at all of the prior honorees shows that every single one of them played at least a half-dozen seasons with the Phillies. A solid majority, 22 of the 33 players enshrined, played for the team for a decade or longer. None of that is even considering Green, who was a player for six seasons with the Phils.
On the second issue, I have made an impassioned plea both this winter and last for the candidacy of 'Dead-Ball Era' 1st baseman Fred Luderus to become the next enshrinee. Even if you don't like Luderus right now, it's hard to argue that he doesn't eventually deserve enshrinement on the Wall of Fame. 
manny_trillo
2nd baseman Trillo (1979-82) was the 1980 NLCS MVP, a 3x Gold Glover, and a 2x NL All-Star with the Phillies (Photo Credit: likesuccess.com)
Another who I would argue deserves a place before Thome would be 2nd baseman Manny Trillo, the Most Valuable Player of the 1980 National League Championship Series and a pivotal member of that year's franchise first-ever World Series champions. 
Trillo played four full seasons with the Phillies, and was a 3x Gold Glover, 2x All-Star, and a 2x Silver Slugger Award winner in his time here.
Frankly, the selection of Thome smacks to me of cynicism by the organization. The team is rebuilding, and finished with the worst record in baseball a year ago. 
Attendance has dropped off precipitously. From a high of 3.7 million during the 2010 season, the Phils only drew half that figure a year ago. In each of the last three seasons, the club has lost a half-million or more fans from the year before.
Thome was extremely popular here at a time when the club was first emerging from a decade and a half of losing. When a new, gorgeous, state-of-the-art ballpark was being opened. When the team had been spurned by other high-profile players, both internally and externally. He remains a popular player today.
To me, the Phillies have chosen Thome only because they want to pack Citizens Bank Park on the weekend of the Wall of Fame festivities, and none of the other candidates has the drawing power that the big slugger possesses during a time when they desperately need paying customers ordering tickets and coming through the turnstiles.
Thome played 13 of his 22 seasons with the Cleveland Indians, who have rightfully claimed him as their own, erecting a statue to him at their ballpark. 
He was drafted by the Tribe, was a perennial AL MVP candidate in the mid-late 1990's and early 2000's in Cleveland, and helped turn that long moribund franchise into a consistent contender.
Jan 19, 2016; Cincinnati , OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds former player/manager Rose during a news conference at Great American Ballpark. Rose will be inducted into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame for the the weekend of June 24-26 of the 2016 season. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
There is, in fact, a similar profile player in Phillies franchise history who is yet another whom I believe deserves enshrinement on the Wall of Fame before Thome - Pete Rose.
Rose is, and rightfully should be, first remembered and celebrated as a member of the Cincinnati Reds, for whom he played in 19 of his 24 seasons after which he became the manager in Cincinnati for parts of seven seasons. 
But he played those other five seasons right here in Philly, was a 4x NL All-Star here, and was the vital, final piece to the 1980 World Series championship puzzle.
Yes, we will celebrate Thome this summer. And he probably does deserve the honor and a permanent place in history for what he brought to the team during an important time in that history.
But Thome's selection with such a small resume only serves to remind us of those who are even more deserving, and who need to be recognized soon by the club. At the top of that list are Rose, Trillo, and especially the mostly forgotten-to-time Luderus.

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